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A Look At One Art Collector’s World

Oilman and art collector Vernon Faulconer fills his Turtle Creek townhouse with a stunning collection of contemporary art. Plus expert advice on incorporating art into your own Dcor.
By Jennifer Davis Dodd |

 
ART SHOW: (Left) Artist Frank Gerritz created this graphite piece using thousands of pencil strokes. In a room of warm browns and matte textures, the reflective qualities and grey color of the artwork command your attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fine Art of Living
Oilman Vernon Faulconer’s Turtle Creek townhouse is a careful balance of breathtaking gallery space and the day-to-day comforts of home.

Oil and gas magnate Vernon Faulconer’s broad contemporary art collection began as a quest for understanding. “Twenty-five years ago, I was looking at a Donald Judd piece and being told how important it was,” he says. “I didn’t understand what that meant, but I thought I should try to.” So he started studying and asking questions. As he began to learn about art in general and his own taste in particular, which runs to the contemporary, Vernon developed a true passion and began collecting. “I started by collecting Texas regionalist artists,” he says, “which is a wonderful way for anyone to start. A number of those early pieces are still favorites.”

 

Artists in The Faulconer Collection

Italian conceptual artist Carlo Maria Mariani

German artist Frank Gerritz

American painter Al Proom

American sculptor Bryan Hunt

American painter Robert Schwartz

British artist Anish Kapoor

British painter Bridget Riley

American artist Robert Cottingham

Japanese artist Yoshiyuki Miura

American painter Winston Roeth

American sculptor John Newman

American sculptor James Turrell

British artist Stephen Cox

Spanish artist Inigo Ovalle

British painter Howard Hodgkin

American artist Ed Ruscha

South African artist William Kentridge

British painter Tony Bevan

Israeli artist Michel Rovner

West Coast artist Alexis Smith

German artist Stephen Balkhenol

 

In the last 25 years, Vernon has built an impressive, one-of-a-kind collection of contemporary artwork, ranging from figurative to abstract and embracing both widely known and unknown artists from around the world. “Collecting isn’t about price or names,” he says. “Art is personal; it’s about your reaction. Who am I to tell someone else ’that’s not good,’ or what a work means? I might be trying to figure out the same thing myself. I buy pieces not knowing how I’ll react to them two years from now, when I may decide they should be more prominently displayed, or less so, or not at all. Collecting art—living with it—is giving yourself time to get to know a piece.”

Many of the artistic works in his collection, spread over three homes and his corporate holdings, were brought to his attention by art consultant and longtime friend Shel Kasmir. Shel was instrumental in helping Vernon build a very special collection within his collection, which was intended for a Turtle Creek townhouse finished just last year.

Vernon and Amy, his wife of 44 years, make their home in Tyler, but work, friends, and family—three grandchildren, in particular—draw them to Dallas often. Seven years ago, when Vernon and Amy began discussing building a home in Dallas, architect Jim Langford suggested a townhouse in a planned community on Turtle Creek. Vernon jumped at it. “I wanted a creative project at that time in my life,” he says, “and the townhouse fit the bill.” Planning alone took a couple of years, but at the end of that time, Vernon had sketches of a three-story townhouse in a style he genially describes as the Dallas version of an 18th-century French chateau and a team of experts: architect Jim Langford, art consultant Shel Kasmir, and designer Paul Draper.

 
COLLECTED WORKS: An important painting from the 1960s, the beginning of the Op Art movement, by British artist Bridget Riley hangs above the18th-century English marble fireplace mantel and surround that was the first piece Vernon designated for this townhouse. Designer Paul Draper plays with this pairing of the contemporary and deeply traditional throughout the house to create an interesting design that supports rather than competes with the art collection.

From the very beginning there was a certain tension between the townhome’s traditional exterior and the contemporary artwork that would be installed. Paul welcomed the tension, knowing it would create the most dynamic and pleasing end result. “We presented Vernon with three plans for the interior finish out and décor,” he says. “Ultra modern, to reflect the collection; very traditional, to counter it; and a softer mix, a plan that is grounded in modern design but with strong traditional notes.”

The mix won out, and Paul set about juxtaposing the contemporary and the traditional throughout the house, pushing some designs more toward the traditional end of the spectrum and others, such as the media room and library, toward the contemporary. Furnishings are anything but true to period or style, rather they’re designed for comfort and chosen to suit a particular space. White walls throughout—in fact the only colored paint in the entire house appears in the artwork—would read as modern, if not for the softening effect of gilt columns and traditional woodwork. Floors are wood or stone, sometimes laid in intricate patterns, but they complement rather than dominate.

Colors in materials and fabrics are neutrals or drawn from nature, creating warm but understated spaces that allow the art to provide much of the energy and vitality of the design. “A palette of natural colors and natural materials allows the art to push forward and the interior design to recede,” Paul says. “In nature, you see vast areas of neutrals—browns and greens—with small spots of color. That’s what I saw for this interior, with the art providing the color.”

 
EXHIBITION: (This page) Italian
conceptual artist Carlo Maria Mariani’s Creativity and Science hang in a corner of the master bedroom.

While Jim was building and Paul was decorating, Shel was searching. “In the beginning, all I had were floor plans,” she says. “I created spread sheets with all of the places art might go and the dimensions I had to work within.” In consultation with Shel, Vernon decided that this collection should focus on less well known, living contemporary artists. Armed with her spread sheets and that focus, Shel traveled from show to show and fair to fair, gathering potential additions to the collection, which Vernon would accept or decline, and noted any additions he bought on his own. At the time of installation, after seven years of gathering, the collection was some 100 pieces strong, including everything from Inigo Ovalle’s DNA profile portraits of the Faulconers and their sons families to a piece of James Turrell light art that involves a mechanized turret on the roof.

In late 2003, the house was finished—the art and furnishings installed and the owners settled in—but months later Vernon, Shel, and Paul continue to work together, adding things here and there, because a home, like a collection, is never truly complete.

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Expert Opinion:
The Art Consultant Shel Kasmir’s advice for the novice collector.

 
EXHIBITION: A few of the pieces in the great room: a mixed media sculpture by John Newman on the table, the 26 letters of the alphabet drawn from vintage neon signage, paint on paper, by Robert Cottingham, and two large squares created with many, many layers of paint by Winston Roeth. Staring at this piece for a time causes an optical illusion; the viewer sees images of other squares.

Buy what you love. You’ll find a place for it. (Or ask an art consultant to come in and find a place for it.)

The best way to educate yourself and learn about your taste is to look. Go to art galleries, exhibitions, shows, and fairs. Ask questions.

Don’t buy for investment—you’ll have to pay a lot for an investment piece. Buy for love. Choose something you can live with.

Galleries will generally let you take a piece home on approval for a few days to see how it works in your space.

As your taste changes—and it will—don’t be afraid to change your collection.

Architectural drawings and sketches are a good way to begin a collection. So is photography.

Buy the best piece by a particular artist that you can for the amount you want to pay.

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Expert Opinion: The Interior Designer Paul Draper’s advice for working art into your décor.

 
LIGHT AS ART: The circular third-floor library is also viewing space for a piece of light art by sculptor James Turrell.

Art is a great way to introduce color into a room, especially if you’re intimidated by paint and/or fabric.

You can mix traditional furniture and contemporary art and vice versa. In fact, it works very well.

White walls are the safest bet when art is the focus of a design.

Don’t worry about warm white versus cool white. White reflects the colors around it. It will blend with the surroundings.

Add richness and interest to neutral designs with natural materials and colors.